Aldon Nielsen


White mischief IV


But it would seem that many critics have been up to just such mischief as Mott makes in his essay. At another meeting of the American Literature Association, as part of a panel sponsored by the Wallace Stevens Society, Notre Dame’s Jacqueline Brogan offered to, as she put it at the time, redeem Stevens from charges of racism. Her primary challenge in the short version of her work that she presented that day was to comments registered by Adrienne Rich, but, replicating a tendency seen in Mott’s presentation, Brogan did not bother to look past Rich’s immediate commentary to the critical sources that Rich herself had identified. Even in the far more thoroughly documented version of her essay that appears as the final chapter of her book “The Violence Within/The Violence Without: Wallace Stevens and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Poetics,” despite the fact that it is published by the same press as the earlier critical work referenced by Rich, Brogan shows a remarkable disinclination to consult the broad corpus of extant critical work on race and discourse.  

White mischief IV

The Imus Effect

A critic advises
not to write on controversial subjects
like freedom or murder
but to treat universal themes
and timeless symbols
like the white unicorn

A white unicorn?
—Dudley Randall

One wag once wagered that from the modernism we choose we get the postmodernism we deserve.  Kathy Lou Schultz has observed that the nature of Melvin B. Tolson’s relationship to Modernism remains a subject of real contention some forty years after the poet’s death, and implied in that observation is the correlative that the subjects of African Americans’ relationships to both modernism and postmodernism are themselves equally fraught. 

No sentence

No comment necessary

White mischief III

I want to talk about a poem published in a widely read book from 2003, a poem that was read by Garrison Keillor during his Writer’s Almanac segment on National Public Radio on January 11, 2008, one of what Keillor likes to term “pretty good poems,” a poem whose persona speaks of a tennis player he is watching as “one of my kind, my tribe” (“Writer’s Almanac”). This might strike a reader as something right out of the Black Arts era, a time when many African American poets wrote directly to a black audience and expressed open disinterest in what any white reader might have to say about their poems.

White mischief II

“Proxy” — someone authorized to act on behalf of another; an authority or power to act for another; a document giving such authority. Those are the defining terms with which most of us first learned the word, though we now live in a universe of proxy servers.

A proxy is a sort of trope.  All metaphors, composed of vehicle and tenor, are proxy enactments. A persona is a proxy. Ralph Ellison told us that there was no more powerful metaphor for the human condition than race in America.